Some advice needed for first year brood...I want baby ducks!!


10 Years
Dec 30, 2010
Bureau County, Illinois
I'm looking for some advice on how to go about setting up one of my hens for brooding her own hatch. I have a flock of ten Cayugas born last June. One of my hens started laying at the start of February. We ate the first week's eggs and then she either hid the eggs for the next week or so or took a break from laying. I had suspicions of buried eggs, so I peeked into the house this week and saw an egg poking out of the bedding...when crawled in and dug around, it was one of six eggs

As of last night, there are eight eggs in the clutch. I would like to let her set them, but I'm worried that she won't go broody or that I'm messing up the fertility by leaving them in the duck house. I have lots of questions...

The duck house is locked up and secure at night when I can get the ducks to go in. With the warmer weather lately, they would rather spend the nights splashing by the pond, which is about 12 feet from the door of the duck house. I've only gotten the ducks locked up once this week, when I went out at 1:30 AM and they were all snuggled in. The close access to the pond makes it difficult to herd them in, as all but three or four are pretty skittish. The low temps at night are still around 32, although I don't think it's below freezing in the duck house, as I have a winter's worth of deep litter in there. Should I take her eggs out and gather a clutch for her? Should I let nature take its course and let her decide when she wants to set? Should I/can I candle the eggs yet or is that only possible after they've been set on for a few days?

Another problem is that I can't tell which of my girls is laying. I haven't banded their legs and I can only tell two of the four hens has a small white spot on her breast and another spent a month in the garage recovering from a possum attack so she has a droopy breast muscle on one side where she was wounded. When the weather started warming up and the bedtime problems started, three or four times when I went out to coop them up, I found one hen and one drake inside the duck house. I thought it was a little weird, but I thought maybe it was my pair of recently reintroduced injured birds avoiding the meanies since there were some bullying problems when they went back to the flock. In hindsight, I realize this must have been my laying hen and her favorite beau checking on the nest and turning the eggs. I know she's turning them at least some of the time, as I found the bedding around the eggs had been stirred up last night when I did another egg count. How long will the eggs stay fertile in these conditions with varying temperatures during the day and near freezing temperatures at night? The bedding is surprisingly dry and fluffy in the corner she picked, so I don't think there's a risk of bacterial infection, and she dug out a wide bowl of a nest nearly down to the bare ground just before she started laying in that spot (she covers the eggs now). I bought some fancy alfalfa hay with the intention of giving her some nice nesting material, but then had second thoughts after remembering the slimy, stinky mess that the ducks made of it when I briefly tried bedding the house with hay. I'll probably let her try out some hay this weekend and take it out if she doesn't use it.

I think the flock has slept on the pond bank a couple nights this week and I haven't found the pair in the duck house alone since over a week ago. I would assume that whichever hen is laying hasn't been sleeping in the duck house alone, but I don't really know. I don't want to separate her from the flock until the ducklings are hatched. I'm prepared to incubate if she starts setting and decides it's not her thing, but what should my cutoff point be if she doesn't decide to start setting at say, 12 or 15 eggs? I'm fairly confident that the eggs will be fertile, as the drakes are already having lots of, er, "fun" with the girls. I have too many boys and will be culling four once the hen sets or I decide to incubate (I'd like to keep the gene pool as varied as possible until I get some duckies on the way).

Part of me says, "Just let the darn duck figure it out and let nature do the work." But the other part really wants ducklings...yesterday! Any suggestions on how long I can wait on her to get broody and still keep these eggs alive would be great.

And, as always, I apologize for being so long-winded...I was an English Lit. major in college and it's a hard habit to break

Sunshine, I'm afraid I can't help with all of your questions, but I'm interested in finding what other more experienced duck owners have to say. This will be my first year with my own ducks hatching out ducklings. I can't wait and have questions about the best way to go about keeping the moms and ducklings safe and when to separate the flock from the broody.
I live near Sublette so, "Hi Neighbor!"
Yes, we're close, Mary. I'm near Wyanet. The pond was fully thawed for the first time today and I've put some hay in for my layer, but a far as I can tell, she only goes in to turn the eggs and no new egg today. I think the flock has her sleeping outside. Supposed to be a cold one tonight, so maybe she'll lay another by morning. I have a friend with an incubator I can borrow. I think I'll set it up tomorrow if she doesn't start making a nest and I'll task take over on this first batch in a few days.
I did get some good news...I have someone willing to take my bachelors

At the very least, if no one posts some pointers for first year natural duck hatching, I'll try to keep my process posted for other newbies!
I think my main dilemma is the level of free ranging my ducks made them a bit independent last summer and the only ones that are social enough to come in for treats are the two who spent time in the house after injuries and a third who I brought in to keep the injured hen company. A few others seem to be coming around slowly.
They were checking out the 35 Canada geese who stored by the pond today and I only got a trio to come in for treats. I give them greens and BOSS every night, but they haven't eaten much over the past few days...didn't east any at all two nights ago when I put it inside their house. They're lucky they're cute!
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At least you have a layer!! I've yet to get an egg.
I have an almost 2 year old duck and her two daughters born the first week of June last year. My drake is a youngster born in September, and is clumsily doing his job, but no eggs yet (all are Muscovy). I'm wanting to get a separate area set up for Pearl (mom) since I think she will be the first to want to set when the eggs start coming. I read that it's best to try and have everything set-up before they go broody because moving them doesn't usually work. I hope the weather forecast for this week is correct and we'll have above freezing temps during the day for the next 10 days. I'd like to move my turkeys so I can set-up that area for duck broodies but need it to warm up a bit!!
If they are anything like my mallard hens, they just lay eggs and ignore them. I tried to let one of mine go broody and had to toss a dozen or more eggs. They were kicked around and ignored.

However, when she did go broody, she was one big cramp and grouchy. I let her set and one by one she tossed out eggs until there were none left to hatch. She went the entire 28 days. So I gave up on hatching.....
I wonder if my layer is the hen who was badly injured and spent a month in the garage in January. That might have kick started her early, especially with the gourmet diet to get her eating again. I'm going to fetch my friend's incubator in a bit and see if I can get it stabilized over the next few days.
I did notice that the visiting geese seem to be breaking my ten into two or three groups.
I'll be checking on the eggs after I get back.


Here's the pond from our porch just before the sun came out today.
Well, I stole my hen's clutch last night and there were ten eggs, but I think I missed two a bit off to the side on an earlier count. I'll be working on getting the incubator sanitized, mended and stable tonight. (The crack in the top that he told me about was actually the whole corner broken off when he was installing a fan, but I'm pretty handy and I think I should be able to get it sealed up.)

The hay I left next to her nest was untouched and we found two eggs on the shore of the pond, so I don't think she'll be going broody anytime soon
One of those stray eggs was cracked--I think it may have frozen overnight. I cracked that one open and it looked fertile, so I'm hoping I can get the incubator ready before I lose too much fertility on the other eggs. They're in a cool, dark cabinet in the corner of the basement for now. If my laying hen does decide to build another nest, I hope the timing will be right that I can save a second clutch if she won't set again. Off to get a hygrometer after work!
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I hope you get the incubator running and are able to hatch some ducklings from the "found" eggs.
I think the Cayuga ducklings are soo cute with their dark feet and bills!

I wrote Sunday morning that I hadn't gotten any eggs yet..........then I went out to the barn and after letting the ducks out, I found a nest between the wall and a hay bale ........9 eggs!!!
I was afraid of the way they were squooshed between the hay bale and the wall so gently moved the hay, took the bottom half of a dog house (you know the plastic ones with white top and gray bottom, 2 piece kind, just an opening, no door) and put it upside-down over the nest. I moved the nest ever so slightly away from the wall so the doghouse bottom would fit and placed some hay around it. I was afraid that moving things might cause them to stop laying there but......this morning there were 11 eggs!!

Now to get someone to sit on them..............
That's so wonderful, Mary! I guess my girl wasn't too early after all. We don't have a barn out there on the pond, just a hobbled together duck house (with some improvements planned over the summer, of course!). I did put the dogloo I used when they were ducklings out next to the duck house hoping that it might be attractive for a nest and to provide some extra windbreak at the duck house entrance. I plan on fashioning a hay nest in there and putting out some dummy eggs to tempt her. I have a pair that's been segregating themselves from the rest of the flock--they were on the shore where I found one of the stray eggs and now I wonder if that's my layer and her favorite drake. The ducks spent the night in the dried grass on the shore opposite the duck house last night...and I won't have time to check for eggs over there tonight. Ducks are notorious for not liking any change, but since she's still adding eggs, hopefully she will realize that her eggs are even safer now and become a crabby little broody
I swear, every time I made any modifications to their house last summer, I'd have to feed them further away from their house for a week because they were so suspicious of the changes!

Got the incubator fixed except for replacing the missing window and am in the process of adjusting temperature. I think the incubator will go in the office where I'm testing it. It's the only room safe from the cats, but I think I'll have to cover the windows, as it gets lots of afternoon sun. I got a cheap min/max thermometer hygrometer and tried to calibrate the hygrometer, but it seems to be off 15%--still read 60% this morning...Grrr. I'll have to invest in more accurate measuring tools as I get going.

And, yes, Cayugas are so very cute as ducklings, well any ducklings are cute, really! I should dig up the pictures I have of mine in a cardboard box the day I brought them home. Those little black bills and feet get me, too

Good luck on your nest!!
Hopefully the eggs I've collected will go into the incubator tonight. I have a cheapo Wal-Mart Max/Min Thermometer/Hygrometer that I'm monitoring the temperature and humidity fluctuations with, but it doesn't seem all that reliable. I got a Fluker's analog hygrometer and started calibrating it last night, but forgot to check it this morning
It did look pretty good about two hours in--approaching 75%--and it looks like it has an adjustment screw in the back. I put two homemade water wigglers in early last night and am using two baby thermometers to get accurate temperature readings--one on the wire floor that I need to prop up to egg level and another in a water wiggler--they both read just under 99 degrees this morning. The LG is so touchy and if I didn't have waiting eggs losing fertility by the hour, I'd modify the thermostat knob (kicking myself for forgetting to do it last weekend). I need to work on raising the humidity, but I'm confident I can get the hang of it over the weekend. I'm ordering a Brinsea Spot Check today, but in the meantime, I'm trusting the baby thermometers, as they gave me the exact same reading this morning and the Max/Min cheapo reads about 3 degrees high. I'm going to pick up another one to monitor temp. fluctuations in the room and cover the windows with some sheets tonight.

Also, my hen has dug another nest in the same spot I stole her clutch from. I'm going to grab whatever's in there tonight (hopefully three) and replace them with a few chicken eggs, since I'm losing fertility on my gathered eggs by the day. After tonight, she's on her own...she can set on 'em or leave 'em. I just hope I get some babies one way or another.

P.S. I've started a thread on references and resources for Incubating Duck Eggs that I'm hoping will become a Duck forum sticky topic. It's in the works, but the primary article by Metzer Farms is a great summary of the little differences when dealing with waterfowl eggs. You can find the thread here:

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